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  • Writer's pictureJack Mullaney

College Track & Field Needs a Coaching Pathway

I'll say it. When it comes to getting (and keeping) a college track & field job, the bar is too low.

That's not to say getting a job is easy. Quite the contrary. Jobs are limited, and plenty will apply.

So let me be clear: the bar of required qualifications is too low. Typically, a bachelor's degree will suffice. Previous coaching or athletic experience at a high level is preferred.

But beyond that, few job candidates will be pressed to prove their expertise. Sure, they may be asked a few questions about philosophy or recruiting, but what formal education do they have in vital areas like physiology, psychology, biomechanics, nutrition, strength & conditioning, or training methodology?

Further, once we coaches have college jobs for five or ten years, who is coming around to make sure we're continuing our education in these fields?

Let me provide some contrast.

In Germany, the pathway to becoming a top level football manager (soccer coach) is a competitive process. To coach in any of Germany's top three leagues, one needs to complete a 10 month program at the Hennes-Weisweiler-Akademie, resulting in a Pro license.

But not just anyone can show up at the Akademie. 80 applicants are brought in for a three-day evaluation process. Only 24 are accepted for the program.

Over the next 10 months, the cohort of 24 will put in no less than 815 hours of course time, culminating with a 15 page term paper describing their individual coaching philosophy.

The education doesn't end there. Every three years, German coaches with a Pro license are required to complete a certain number of ongoing courses to renew it.

I'm not advocating that we open our own Hennes-Weisweiler-Akademie for track & field coaches. But I do think we can set the bar higher. For example, I think about our strength & conditioning peers, who are usually required to have a graduate degree and a CSCS (Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist) Certification to be hired.

Here are a couple ideas:

As someone who has been through the USATF Level 1 course, I don't think it's event-specific enough to thoroughly equip a college coach, but perhaps Level 2 could be. Maybe Level 1 is required for hire, and Level 2 needing completion in the first two years of employment.

After having gone through some of the USTFCCCA courses (sport psychology, meet management, and program management) at previous conventions, requiring one or more of those every couple years could make sense for coaches to maintain good standing.

Look, I'm just as wary as the next coach about turning hiring into a contest to see who can accumulate certifications. The best indicator that someone can coach is experience that shows they can coach. I also believe if you love what you do, continuing education becomes a habit, whether it's required or not.

But for those starting out in the profession, we need to raise the standard. And to ensure each coach is staying current on the latest research, that bar needs to be higher too.

Our athletes deserve it.


Have a suggestion about how to improve the pathway to coaching? Leave a comment.

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